For All Intents and Purposes
Chapter One: In the dark of the night ...
It is a warm late-August evening. The breeze ruffles the silk of my white dress around my ankles, and low V neckline. Stray tendrils of hair play happily against my face. I watch the gaiety of the party in full swing below from my balcony bedroom. Laughter. Music. Alcohol - and more alcohol. My mother has gone all out, and I guess her agonising months of preparation has been a success. This party is all anyone has been talking about for the last three months, and probably will be for much longer afterwards. They are all here for me. For my good fortune. Then why do I feel like the lamb ready for the slaughter.
I look out beyond the superficialness below me, beyond and beyond until my eyes water and my heart flutters when my gaze rests on the darkened forest below me, which edges far until it meets the still dark blue sea. The Seam. The ocean twinkles like the stars in the sky in the full moonlight. The lights from anchored yachts glow like Christmas tree lights as it is reflected in the water. Tomorrow, my 15:45 flight will take me away from my beautiful island in chains.
I turn my gaze to the far left of me, to the patch of forest near the coast, which is indistinguishable to most eyes, but not mine. Papa's land. He will be down there somewhere, smoking his pipe, playing cards with his friends, eating food from his pot, in touch with nature. The air up here is not for him, clogged with superficialness. Indeed it is not for me, I came up here for a deep breath of fresh air.
"Katniss?" an angelic voice calls me, but I do not turn, I know who it is.
My little sister, Primrose or Prim, tiptoes over, joining me on my left, my other sister, Ruta or Rue, joins me at my right. Their twins. Thirteen years old. Prim is a replica of my mother, and Rue, my papa, and I ended up somewhere in the middle, but looking most like my father I think. In the island's sun, I have the same dark skin as my papa and Rue, we also share the same dark brown/ blonde sun kissed hair, but whereas hers is tight like Papa's, mine is silky like Mother's and Prim's blonde locks. No one has inherited Papa's green eyes, Rue's an earthy brown, Mother's and Prim's a brilliant blue, and mine a striking grey.
It is funny, Prim wishes she looked more like Rue, and Rue wishes she looked more like Prim. And me ... the thought to look differently has never crossed my mind. Once when working on a charter, we had a fancy schmancy plastic surgeon from the Capitol as a guest, who offered to 'sort out these', pointing to my breasts. The nerve! I was only fifteen years old. I remembered my place in comparison to him however, and politely declined. Even though the wildness inside me was snarling, and ready to lunge at him, and gauge his eyes out with my claws. My body shape has not changed much in the past three years, inheriting Papa's strong but skeletal frame. Still, my mother plummets goats milk and eggs down me, with the hope that the added oestrogen will eventually produce curves.
But, if I could be someone other than Katniss Everdeen, that offer I would gladly take.
Rue's soft curly hair leans against my arm, the strands tickling my skin. "Mom asked us to get you", she says solemnly, and Prim's cool straight silky hair rests against my left arm.
"Do you like my dress?" Rue asks over the ruffled yellow Capitol dress she is wearing, as we ascend down the stair case. It used to be mine, like most of my sisters' clothing, it was only to be worn for what my mother deemed as special occasions, and because I could count the number of these high occasions on one hand, it was virtually new for little Rue.
"You look beautiful in it my Little Sparrow".
Rue twirls happily at the compliment, showing off the full skirt, before jumping down the remaining steps and into the thick of the party.
"You look beautiful too, Little Duck", I say to Prim once we have reached the bottom of the steps, and she smiles shyly. Her and Rue are almost opposites in personality. Whereas Rue is mostly quiet like me, perfectly happy in solitude with the trees and nature. Prim is definitely a people's person, like my mother, everyone knows who Prim is and thinks she is the sweetest little thing ever. Although these past few weeks, with my impeding departure, she has often fallen into moments of quietness.
"Give me a twirl", I say and she does. She grins as the floral skirt - mine again, fans as she twirls, the white blouse -?also mine, becomes untucked.
"Hey, watch out for your tail", I catch her pulling her into my tight embrace.
"Quack quack", she sounds and we both laugh.
I tuck her blouse back into her skirt and place a kiss on her forehead.
She holds on to me long after I have let go.
"Go", I urge, suddenly becoming emotional, "go enjoy the party", and she runs off, stopping just before she reaches the crowd, to show off her duck waddle.
I am leaning over another balcony staring out to the Seam. Twirling a champagne glass of water in my hand, wondering whether I contribute to the superficialness with my superficialness ... ?
I know. I am getting myself into a right muddle. I have played my part though. For the last couple of hours, and I know they all mean well, and that I will miss them as much as they miss me, but I am fed up now. This dress is too constricting, the make up on my face is too clogging, my shoes pinching, and my hair pulling. And this is all my own doing, everything will be intensified tomorrow, when it is no longer my choice.
"Madge has the car running, let's say we spring you out of this joint".
I smile at the deep masculine voice behind me, his breath tickling the hairs at the back of my neck. Gale. For all intents and purposes, he is my best friend. We are the same. In looks, personality and spirit. There is no one I trust more than him, and no one I would trade him with to spend time with. Not even, Peeta Mellark. I scowl at myself for allowing him into my thought process.
I turn to stare directly into his smiling eyes. Grey like mine. His skin is also dark like mine, and his hair a sun kissed brown.
"This is my leaving party, Gale", I mutter, and watch him as he takes my hand in his to sample my drink.
He smiles, he knows I am not much of a drinker.
"As I expected, a little bland", he muses and I role my eyes. "Come on Catnip, this is your last night on the island, these old fogies are too fucked on alcohol to register their island's sweetheart has sprung the noose".
I smile at his choice of words. He feels the same way as me about this set up.
"... OK", I smile and let him drag me into the plush 4x4 waiting for me.
Socialite: Madge Undersee. She is the mayor's daughter. Long blonde hair, and large expressive blue eyes. I have no idea what she finds in me as a friend, we are complete opposites. Like Rue and Prim. It is a one way conversation while she prattles on in our lessons about boys, parties, the latest fashion. I know I should be more into those things, and my mother wishes I was, but I could not give a flying fuck. Still I listen, just like she listens as I prattle on about how sea turtles, our diminishing coral, Papa's push for renewable energy.
For all intents and purposes, it should be Madge Undersee in my shoes. But I guess you cannot help who you like, and Peeta Mellark does not like her. At least, not in that way. Also, despite being the mayor's daughter, she did not pass the last year of school, and has to retake the year, instead of going to college with me. I do not know who I am more upset for, her or me.
Finnick 'Finn' Odiar, due to his epic marine skills, is also in the jeep. He swims and sails for the island, in fact just last year he was named the greatest swimmer in Panem's history, after he broke the record in the Panem Quarter Quell Games. A year older than me, I was too young to compete, but Papa has great confidence that if I had gone in for archery, I would have also come away a victor too. Seeing as he took the last year out for training, Finnick, will actually be starting at the same college as me, the only silver lining of this set up. He, as opposed to me, is eager to get back to the Capitol ... let us just say, in his year away, his muscles were overworked not just by his swimming coach.
And that is all who are in the car. My friends. Of course we are not the only ones around my age on the island, there are plenty of them at the party, and plenty whose mother's had not dragged them with them. Growing up on the small District 12 island, or Pruna, due to the islands bountiful supply of coal, I know them all by name, and they all - especially since Peeta Mellark announced me as the object of his affection - know who I am. And are all probably, like me, wondering what the fuck someone like him sees in a plane boring jane like me. Seriously, you would have a better conversation with Gale's sister, Posy, who has just turned two, and decided she would like to give talking a try.
"Katniss, slide up next to me and spare me a few of your sweet kisses while they're still free", Finnick calls from inside, although I cannot see his face, I know what face, the Capitol's Lothario is wearing. It is the same image that has been plastered on the front of every magazine in Panem, following his victory. His chiseled body, sun-kissed hair, bottomless sea green eyes, and attractive smile, has made him Panem's new boy toy.
"Never. I don't know where your mouth has been", I tease sliding in next him.
"Where hasn't my mouth been", he smiles to himself.
"That's what has me worried", I quip, and smile at the sad fish face he is giving me, which I can just make out in the dim light of the car. I let him do it for a few seconds before I give in, and give him a kiss on his cheek.
He lets out an over the top smile, and expands his arms in triumph. "There. Now I can die happy".
I smile. Everyday I see him, I greet him with a kiss on the cheek, and every time he says those same words.
"Now all you have to do is die", Gale glums as he slides in next to me, which I think is a bit weird seeing as there is clearly more space in the front.
Madge notices this too.
"What's up with you bitches? Do I smell or something? One of you join me in the front", she exclaims.
Gale's eyes bore into mine, but makes no initiative to move, so I shrug and clamber over to join Madge in the front.
"Where to Katniss? You're last night on the island-", Madge asks, her question is slightly alcohol slurred, but I am not worried. Madge lives just next door, and has grown up going up and down Merchant Hill in much worse states then she is this evening. And who knows, if she crashes, I would never have to leave this island, I could spend the rest of the days with Papa in the Seam, climbing trees and being at one with nature.
"Hey!" Finnick protests, "I am leaving too you know, it seems like everyone on this island has forgotten that", he mumbles.
I turn to smile at Finnick's glum face, and he instantly perks, before turning back to contemplate, Madge's question.
Where would I like to spend my last evening in Pruna?
The answer is easy. Papa's. But he would only scold me and tell me to go back to my mother, besides, I do not think he would appreciate the added company.
I think for an alternative.
"Yeah boi!" Finnick cheers, "the beach".
Nakedness is something that cannot be feared on Pruna island. It is something that seems to go with the tropical island lifestyle. While we would never go to work or school naked, we are very respectable; at the beach, in the comfort of friends. It is not unknown to walk around naked, to the old fogies it is known as 'one love', to us kids, it is known as 'cool'.
I am in the minority.
I am not comfortable with nakedness. Whilst my parents and my sisters walk around with next to nothing on at home, I am much more reserved. My body is not for others to see, my body is my own. It makes me highly uncomfortable to see others naked, I always find myself unknowingly looking at places I should not be looking.
For all intents and purposes, Gale's, Madge's and Finnick's nakedness, I have learned to deal with. But in the darkness of my last night on Pruna island, as I strip out of my mother's white dress, which I am careful to hang up, because I know how valuable her clothes are to her, I find myself transfixed by the waves of the ocean. Calling me into the sea. To bear and give everything to the ocean, while I still can, before my body becomes something I no longer own. I slip out of my panties, I was not wearing a bra. I loosen my hair from its long single plat, shaking it free. Before tiptoeing into the ocean, letting the warm water, just for this evening, soothe away my worries.